How Might Wind Energy Impact Birds?
Before the Wind
Wind power is being developed at a rapid rate; however, despite
recent advances in technology, the U.S. lags behind many other nations
in pursuing this renewable energy resource. When our nation does
surmount the political, economic, and technological obstacles to wind
power, will we be ready to go full speed ahead?
The answer is no, not quite; there are ecological questions, too,
that need to be addressed. Maryland's world-renowned ornithologist,
Chandler Robbins, warns that certain sites favorable for wind
power--such as ridge tops--are also favored by migratory birds. These
birds take advantage of rising air currents, which allow them to
conserve energy on their long flights. Both Maryland's Fall Line, which
passes through southern Harford County, and the Appalachian Mountains are
known migratory routes followed by millions of birds every spring and
fall. (We are not aware of "millions" because most songbirds
migrate at night.) These birds, many of which fly only a few hundred
feet above the ground, are vulnerable to hitting radio towers, microwave
towers, and other tall structures. Therefore, concerns have been raised
about wind turbines as potential hazards for migratory birds.
Dr. Robbins has commented that ". . . the entire population of the
endangered Kirtland's warbler has to fly over the central Appalachians
twice a year between their Michigan breeding ground and their winter
home in the Bahamas." Plans for Appalachian wind power plants in
West Virginia and Maryland have made many birdwatchers and biologists
nervous about probable bird losses.
What is the solution? Either redesign wind turbines so that they may
operate efficiently closer to the ground, or equip them with lights
and/or sounds that enable night-flying birds to avoid them. Then we have
a win-win scenario: birds get to migrate without crashing into our
contraptions, and we get clean, renewable energy.
The importance of researching ways to protect wildlife from our
increasingly modified-by-technology world cannot be overemphasized.
Let's do our homework first instead of creating new problems as we solve
Reference Cited: Robbins, Chandler. "Of Songbirds and
Windmills." Chesapeake, Winter 2002: 1-4.